All work and no play makes Elon …
November 02, 2022
... think he can run three innovative companies in three dynamic industries while standing astride a desperately divided culture with his pants unzipped.
I don’t know any more about running the world’s largest social media platform than anybody else. Nor do I have any useful theories about how bad Twitter will get under Elon Musk.
But I do run a tiny little company, and I can tell you this man can’t possibly be running three large companies at once with any degree of responsibility or real care.
I’m sure Elon Musk is smarter than me. And though I’ve worked pretty hard and pretty steadily over my 30 year career—and never harder or more steadily than in the years since owning my company—I’m also sure Musk works far more hours every day than I do.
But I don’t care how many hours he works; he can’t run three companies, unless those companies are running themselves. And Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter are not running themselves. He can only be running these three companies in the roughest, most reckless and feckless manner. The only person I know who works at any of these companies reported days after Musk’s Twitter overthrow that that he is: “Scared. We still haven’t received a single bit of comms from any leadership. He is very impulsive.”
My dad got once mad at me at a family dinner during the Enron scandal 20 years ago when I said I thought the CEO Ken Lay had no idea what was going on down in the company he was purportedly “running.” “Sure he does!” my dad thundered. “All those guys know what’s going on in their companies!” I don’t know if I was right or wrong about Ken Lay, but I do know now that it’s possible not to know everything that’s going on in your own company.
Ask my little company’s operations and accounting people, who know they could embezzle about 75% of the thing if they wanted to, before Mister Smartie smelled something fishy. But that’s not because I’m out to lunch: It’s because I’m focused (most of the time) on what I should be: Talking to our customers. Thinking and writing about the community we’re cultivating. Watching developments in our industry and seeking new ways to grow the enterprise by furthering our wee company’s broad mission, Professional leadership communication, to promote greater social understanding. And communicating with our people, trying to make sure we are each as meaningfully involved in all of this work as we possibly can be.
I’m proud of this job I do—but I can’t imagine doing (let alone three) two!
I know that lots of people proudly call themselves “serial entrepreneurs.” When I hear that, I think, “company flippers,” and I confidently bet that most of the outfits they’ve started and profited from selling don’t exist anymore because they were created for reasons of greed or ego and in an absence of any larger social contribution that the venture capitalists could even repeat with a straight face. I’m not calling that sort of behavior wrong, really. It’s just that I don’t believe it builds anything lasting.
Recently I ran across a piece I wrote when I was making the transition from “The Grasshopper,” a resentful monicker a more financially encumbered friend gave me during my freelance writing days. By 2015, I was turning all of my focus to the demanding work of developing the nascent Professional Speechwriters Association. “We’ve got the roof on,” I wrote then, “but we’ve got to get the drywall and the siding up before winter. The task requires most of my time, energy and attention. It’s fun—and actually it’s a relief, to have my work cut out for me.”
At that time I took comfort in a letter written by Norman Mailer when he was on the cusp of pouring a few years into what he knew would be an all-consuming new novel. He told a friend:
Years ago, Theodore Reik was being analyzed by Freud, and as a talented young man he was naturally interested not only in being a superb analyst but a musician, a writer, a lover, a boulevardier, a vigilante, even a mad genius. Freud listened and got angrier and angrier. Finally, he said, “Reik, you want to be a big man? Piss in one spot.”
History has been driven by egomaniacs who thought anything they touched would turn to gold—and megalomaniacs who thought any front they went to war on would lead to victory. We know how that usually turns out.
So, this unpleasant little Napoleon will come to grief in the end. Trouble is, so will his employees and his investors—and maybe a lot of his fellow citizens, too.
And meanwhile: piss everywhere.